Comment by the Information and Press Department on the latest reports by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission and Human Rights Watch on the use of chemical weapons in Syria

Submitted on Wed, 05/10/2017 - 06:40

The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (OPCW FFM) in Syria has recently published a report on the September 16, 2016 chemical attack in the village of Maarat Umm Hawsh in Aleppo Province, Syria. We provided assistance to the OPCW FFM in keeping with Clause 6 of Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). In particular, the Russian Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Protection Forces provided the samples and factual and material evidence collected at the incident site to the authorised representatives of the Syrian Government. In December 2016, these samples and materials were forwarded to the OPCW FFM, and in January 2017 these were delivered, with Italy’s assistance, to The Hague for OPCW analysis.

The conclusion regarding the use of sulphur mustard (mustard gas), which we made jointly with our Syrian colleagues, has been reaffirmed by the OPCW. We note this with satisfaction.

We proceed from the assumption that all materials available to the OPCW FFM will be turned over to the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which will investigate them accurately in accordance with its mandate. Those responsible for this chemical incident and those outside Syria who possibly guided their actions must be identified.

We are saying this also in order to remind everyone about the established procedure for the international agencies’ operation in situations such as this. It is regrettable that our foreign colleagues, including French and British officials, as well as representatives from Human Rights Watch, which is a highly respected human rights organisation, have opted to act differently. It took them only a few days to reach an incontrovertible conclusion that placed the blame for the alleged use of aviation bombs filled with sarin at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib on the Syrian Government.

We have provided our assessments and comments on the French investigation of this incident. We consider the conclusions of this investigation, according to which the Syrian military allegedly used hand grenades filled with sarin, which is a highly toxic nerve gas, as unbelievable and even exotic. This is the most shockingly fraudulent conclusion in the history of chemical weapons. It is obvious that these unbelievable statements are made in order to further demonise the Syrian Government.

Information planted in Paris and London refers to the results of an analysis of samples collected at the incident site. However, it is unclear who collected these samples, when and how, how they were delivered from the site and which laboratories analysed them, and whether the OPCW procedures for chain of custody were maintained. And lastly, the key question is why France and Britain conducted independent national investigations into a chemical incident that took place in an OPCW member state, or whether the Syrian Government had asked them to conduct these investigations in keeping with Article X of the CWC? The answer is, clearly, No.

The Human Rights Watch conclusions regarding the incident at Khan Sheikhoun do not stand up to scrutiny either. They are based on witness testimony collected remotely, and all the witnesses are members of the Syrian opposition. This does not add objectivity to the process.

An official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry has provided exhaustive proof and laid bare the allegations on the use of Soviet chemical agents at Khan Sheikhoun. We must point out that neither the Soviet Union, nor the Russian Federation has ever exported munitions for the delivery of chemical warfare agents.

We again urge everyone who is interested in the Syrian chemical file to read the materials published on a special page of the Foreign Ministry’s website. This will help them understand what really happened and what is happening in Syria.

We insist that OPCW FFM experts be dispatched for a professional and objective investigation to Khan Sheikhoun and the Shayrat Airbase, where chemical munitions containing sarin were allegedly stored, as soon as possible. This is only possible with due regard for OPCW procedures.

We support the intention, made public by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu, to send OPCW FFM experts to Syria in cooperation with the concerned UN agencies. We hope that they will visit Khan Sheikhoun and Shayrat, which would be fully in keeping with Paragraph 12 of the Terms of Reference for the OPCW FFM in Syria.